I lay low during the ‘season’ as I can’t think what to say to people any more. I went to only two summer parties, a personal worst for me: Lady Annabel Goldsmith’s annual gold-plater in Richmond, and Jenni Russell and Stephen Lambert’s Notting Hill do, where I found myself introducing David Cameron to Seumas Milne. ‘You were at Eton and you went to Winchester,’ I said, as if the pair were shy teenagers at the Feathers Ball before the snogging, ‘so you two should get on like a house on fire!’ Seumas tried to recruit me in 2017 but I never came across. ‘Which party should I enter as a sleeper cell next?’ I joked (after I quit the Lib Dems they surged and as soon as I joined Change UK they tanked). ‘The Lib Dems,’ said Milne. ‘Labour,’ said Cameron. Which was elegant of the former PM as Labour is destroying itself without needing any outside agency to complete the job. Note: I’ve been a member of only two political parties. When I joined Change UK you could only be a ‘registered supporter’. Founder membership is now available for a fiver a month for any homeless progressive centrists out there. Don’t all rush at once!
I know what I did last summer. I crouched in a river valley in Somerset, as I worried that if I went away before the change of editors at my paper I might be sacked. In mid-August an email landed. It was from the incoming editor of the Mail on Sunday, Ted Verity, suggesting a coffee. How nice! I thought. Ted wants to meet his ‘star female columnist’ (not my words) before he gets his feet under the desk. I emailed back saying how much I was looking forward to working with him when he started in the autumn, but I was four hours west. Could it wait till after the summer? At the rentrée we met for the first time in the Baglioni hotel near Kensington High Street. He pumped me for gossip for a full 50 minutes, glanced at his watch, then sacked me. I was a bit cross that I hadn’t ordered the deluxe Italian breakfast for £25 but grateful that I hadn’t booked a taxi to Taunton, bought a return and paid for a taxi back to the farm just to be given the order of the boot.
Given the above, I was taking no chances and booked our usual August week in an unfashionable (and therefore unspoilt) part of mainland Greece, from where I write. Thanks to parity an espresso is three quid and a Mythos four quid, but the sun it shineth every day, the gin-clear Pagasetic Gulf is plopping with seals and dolphins, and there is Greek salad still for lunch, tea, and dinner.
The day before departure I bumped into the exquisite chef Skye Gyngell in a boiler suit in SpaceNK (has there ever been a more ‘metropolitan elite’ sentence in this diary?). I was after some fake tan, but Skye frogmarched me to a nearby boutique. In a booth I stood naked apart from a paper cap. A machine sprayed a mist of sticky brown droplets all over my body and face. As I paid, I was warned not to shower for eight hours. By 3 a.m., when we had to arise to make the traditional 6 a.m. easyJet flight, I had developed like a photograph. I arrived in Greece a Trumpy shade of tangerine. ‘What, have you been away already?’ fellow holidaymaker Don McCullin enquired. Never having a fake bake again. You arrive looking like a crispy chicken nugget, and depart a deep frozen one again.
I’ve had many holidays in Pelion with The Don but I’ve never seen him take out a camera. He once told me that his three rules of photography were ‘no family, no pets, no sunsets’, which might explain it. I content myself with photographing him on my iPhone. He has never used one, of course.
Every middle-aged woman I know has gulped down summer’s non-fiction hit, Three Women, a graphic book that details not just what the women did and what men did to them (I hope never to read the words ‘eating out’ ever again), but also how the women felt throughout. Here’s Three Women in one sentence: Fifty Shades for women who subscribe to publications like the New Yorker, the TLS, etc., but never get around to reading them.
Don is married to my childhood friend, the travel writer Catherine Fairweather. She has taught me to take a spare bikini with you everywhere you go. ‘My Russian grandmother told me never to sit in a wet swimsuit,’ she explained as we sat at a table on the white beach by blue sea on yellow Van Gogh chairs eating whitebait and deep-fried calamari, washed down with ice-cold bottles of golden Mythos. ‘It’s bad for your ovaries, and gives you a spotty bum.’ I pass on this useful tip to any still summering and ovulating Spectator readers.
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